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Actually, He Saved Christmas and Stole Tony's Heart

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It was an fairly ordinary, perfectly nice neighborhood bar. Television over the bar and another on one wall. A dozen or so small tables, seven or eight stools at the bar. The bartender was pleasant, as was the waiter. Patrons very seldom got drunk, and the only time there was any rowdyness was when Tony's old team had a game on the network, since the bar didn't bother with cable. Or Wi-Fi. People came by after work for a couple of beers, or a few friends might relax with a few pitchers, watch the game, and occasionally, ask Tony for his opinion on the plays.
Tony liked it there. It wasn't empty and quiet like his apartment, and people were usually polite when they talked to him; it was rare that anyone made snarky comments about his elbow. Or his knee. The team wasn't on top or at the bottom of the league, so there wasn't a lot of fervor in the fans, at this bar, anyway. Tony always nursed first one, then a second, but never a third beer; to make the time pass before he headed back home, to his quiet, lonely place. Occasionally, a newcomer would offer to buy him a drink, if he was still on his first, he'd accept. He never talked about it, not even to himself, but he knew it would be all too easy to just keep having beers, and that nothing good could come of that.
Tony knew quite a few of the regulars, some from way back in the day, a couple had even gone to school with him. He supposed he could have called them his friends, except that they never got together anywhere else, and no one ever invited him to join them in anything, or come to a party, go to the beach, meet their families.
It was an ordinary evening, the TVs were on, no one was really paying attention, people were chatting, friendly, familiar background sounds of a regular night. Tony was sitting at a table with some people he'd known from back in their school days, more than acquaintances, but not exactly friends. People had all known him, back when he was a football star, and now, he was still probably the closest to a famous person they had ever met, and so, was someone to sit with, for the mere hint of faded glories past.
"Hey, Tony!", said someone, whose name Tony should have, but didn't remember, " isn't that The Grinch you used to hang around with in school? On the TV?"
Tony flung himself around, just in time to catch a brief glimpse of the oh-so-familiar green face on the screen, but not to hear or read what the report was about. "Did anyone hear what they said? Did something happen to him?"
A plump, pleasant woman a bit older than Tony leaned closer to him. "I read the captions. It seems your old friend was some kind of a hero. Saved all of Christmas for some little town at the edge of nowhere, they didn't seem to explain how, but the town made him an honorary mayor, or some such. Funny!"
"Did you get the name of the town, did they say where it was?" Tony's voice was just a shade too loud and urgent to really be polite.
"Sorry, I didn't catch it."
One of the guys from school piped up, "I thought the old Grinch hated holidays, especially Christmas! He always was such a...Grinch about it."
Tony said quietly, "He hated Christmas because he didn't have a hone and family to go celebrate with. And the noise always upset his nerves; anything loud always bothered him more than other people realized."
"Yeah, whatever! Guess he's world famous in Whoville now!"
"Whoville? Was that the town?"
College chum pursed his lips, really focusing on the anxious expression on Tony's face. "You always had a special 'thing' for him, didn't you? Is that why you want to know where he is now? You guys didn't stay in touch? After you two were so, you know, tight, together?"
Tony hid clenched paws under the table, while briefly considering how this twerp would look with a broken jaw. Something of the air of threat must have reached the man, because he simply added, "Yes, it was Whoville. Somewhere north of here."
Tony was careful not to knock anyone over as he jumped up, but there were several gasps as his chair tilted wildly before crashing backwards at his haste. Cries of "Tony" and "what the heck" were unheard by the Tiger as he turned to the door.
"Going to run to your lover boy, Tony", asked a particularly unpleasant, slightly inebriated and impolitely raised voice. It belonged to a fellow who had been at school with the Grinch and Tony, but hadn't graduated, and now sat with the others trying to pretend to be one of them. " I guess the rumors really were true, huh?", followed by a nasty, cackling laugh.
Tony, already striding towards the door, stopped, dead on his tracks and stood with his back to the speaker for a moment. Something about the sight of the large, orange and black, furry frame, standing motionless, caught peoples' attention, and the room seemed to become noticeably hushed. Tony squared his shoulders, and half turned back to the speaker, whose mouth was hanging open, aghast at what he might have unleashed.
"As a matter of fact, I did love the Grinch, very much. I still do. And if you have a problem with that..." the man turned almost as green as the Grinch, "well then", Tony concluded, " That's your ugly problem, not mine. 'Night all!"
And with that, Tony strode out, headed for his apartment, to grab a few things, then on to the train station, to catch the first train for Whoville.
Which would turn out to be several trains, a half day's journey and ample time to scrounge someone's newspaper and read the few squibs about The Grinch Who Saved Christmas.

The Grinch was standing on the little ledge outside his front door, it was early afternoon, when, impossibly, he saw a once familiar and quite dear figure of gloriously stripy fur, trudging stalwartly up the slope, following the path to his cave. And just as he saw the Tiger, his head lifted and Tony caught sight of the Grinch. A huge smile lit up his face, he waved a gigantic paw in the air, and the Grinch cried out, "Tony!", with the biggest grin possible for his Grinchy face. A moment later, the Grinch remembered their last parting, and wanted to be angry, but he couldn't stop the unbridled joy pounding through his newly-restored-to-its-proper-size heart.

A short time later, Tony and the Grinch were seated on the low benches, the Grinch had built recently to accommodate his now-occasional Who visitors.
"I heard it on the news, but it didn't seem to make a lot of sense. I gather you saved the town's Christmas, so you're a hero, and they made you honorary mayor. The reporter didn't give a lot of details, just that it was a nice, sweet Christmas miracle sort of thing. I don't exactly understand; I thought you always hated holidays, especially Christmas. So, what really happened?"
The Grinch gave a rueful shrug. "I didn't save Christmas. I stole it. I stole it, but I changed my mind and put it back. The Who's are an absolutely juvenile bunch of noisy neighbors, who cheered me for giving them back everything I took from them in the first place. I'm not a hero."
Tony's mouth hung open for a moment or two, then he let out a roaring laugh. "Now, THAT sounds more like you! I think you'd better explain it to me, all of it, this time."
The Grinch gave another grimace. "It's not all that complicated. I thought when I moved onto the mountain here, that I'd some peace and quiet, along with the solitude. But, like I said, the Who's make a fair amount of noise, particularly at Christmas. And somehow, this year, I just decided I couldn't stand it anymore. I'd steal everything, the whole shebang, and for once, they'd be quiet. So I snuck into town, and took absolutely everything. But then, when I was getting ready to just dump it all down the ravine, I could hear them singing their usual Christmas song. You see, they had something I couldn't take; each other, and the love they share. And love's something no one can steal."
Tony looked down at his feet. "That's not exactly true. I stole your love, back in school. "
The Grinch smiled fondly, if a bit sadly. "You didn't steal my love, Tony. I gave it to you. It wasn't your fault that you didn't feel the same way in return."
Tony kicked at the snow, and raised his head to look the Grinch straight in the eyes. "But that's just it, I did love you, too. I loved you, and I let you think I didn't. Because I was a football player, I wanted to be a football star. And having a boyfriend just wasn't something a football star did." He looked down again. "I let you be unloved, all alone, because I wanted to be rich and famous. So, you see, I did steal your love. It seems pretty foolish now, to say I was wrong, and I'm sorry, but it's all I can say, now."
The Grinch quickly moved to sit right beside Tony, and threw a skinny green arm around the massive orange and black striped shoulders.

"It's all right, you know. Oh, I felt like you broke my heart for a while. And I missed our friendship even more. But I had always known, deep down that it wouldn't ever have worked. You had a real future, a career; and professional football stars do NOT have boyfriends. I knew that, I just wished it would somehow be different. You wouldn't ever have been happy if you threw it all away, just so we could be together." The Grinch looked sad, "I could see the dreams you had, and I didn't have anything to offer you."
Tony put a paw under the Grinch's chin and forced him to meet Tony's eyes. "You had yourself to offer me. I was too much of a star struck fool to understand or appreciate your love, but it was never 'nothing'. You're right that I would have been unhappy my whole life if I didn't try for the brass ring. I just wish..."
The Grinch smiled ruefully. "I'm sorry you didn't get everything you hoped for. The injury. And-" He broke off, not wanting to seem to pry.
Tony finished the sentence. "The injury, my marriage, my divorce, the custody issues. I suppose you saw it all in the newspapers."
"Some of it. I couldn't bear reading about you being unhappy. And, of course", he stopped abruptly.
Again, Tony knew the rest of the thought. " Part of you wanted to hope that, after the career-ending injury, when my wife divorced me, that there wasn't any reason we couldn't finally be together. I thought about it, but I had a daughter, and for a little while, I was still newsworthy enough that something outrageous might have made the gutter press, and I couldn't do that to my daughter.
"All of which is a lousy, lying excuse. I was afraid that if I came to you, after the way we ended, you'd just tell me to bug off. I publicly denied you. I let the guys think you had a crush on me, but that I didn't care. I watched them laugh, and I walked away."
The Grinch scowled. "They never liked me anyway. They weren't friendly, they teased me about my studying, my good grades, my looks. They didn't actually try that hard, after you made it clear we weren't together. It wasn't a joke worth pursuing, because I didn't care what they said, anyhow. They gave up the teasing pretty quickly. And I left school. So it didn't matter."
"How long have you lived here?"
"Oh, I've pretty much stopped paying attention to time. It doesn't matter up here."

After the silence had gone on long enough to begin to feel awkward, Tony stood up and looked down at Whoville at the foot of the Grinch's mountain. "I suppose I ought to be going, I didn't book a room or anything, and it's getting late."
The Grinch let out a sound rather like a cross between a giggle and a snort. "Oh, sweetie, there's no hotel in Whoville, their visitors just stay with family or friends. Anyway, it's still light up here, because of the altitude, a few minutes down the trail, it's already night, you mustn't even think about trying it, even if you do 'see in the dark'. You'll have to stay with me." His face lit up with a smile, then it faded. "Unless you don't want to..." he trailed off.
Tony positively grinned. "That would be-" he broke off before he could say 'Great!', and finished, "fine."
Leading the way into his cave, the Grinch tossed back over his shoulder, "I hope you still think so after dinner; right now, I'm afraid it's going to have to be Who Hash, but I have some nice apples for dessert."
Tony furrowed his brow, "Who Hash? Do I want to know what that is?"
The Grinch was occupied with emptying the contents of several cans into a frying pan; he handed one of the empty ones to the tiger for his inspection. "Apparently, no one knows. As you see, except for the name of the product, all the rest of the label is in Sanskrit." He smiled again, "You can relax, I eat it, the Who's eat it, even Max, my dog eats it." He tilted his head in the direction of the open doorway leading to the bedroom, where the nose of a very small dog was just visible. "It's all right, you can come out; he's not a dog-eating tiger." Slowly the rest of Max entered the main room, carefully approached Tony, sniffed an ankle, wagged his tail and trotted off to lie down in his basket.
Dinner was awkward, and funny and companionable and after a while, it almost seemed that it hadn't been years since the two friends had spoken to one another. Tony laughed as the Grinch recounted his celebratory carving of the Roast Beast and reached down to pat Max on the head as he sat under the table eating his portion of the who hash, laughing again at the image of tiny little Cindy Lou Who presenting Max a slice of the Beast.
---
After the table was cleared, they sat for a bit, the silence becoming awkward, until the Grinch finally gave a slightly embarrassed cough. "I know it's a dreadfully trite cliche, but it's bedtime and...There's Only One Bed."
Tony squinched up his face, "Cliche? I've never; oh! You mean there's only one bed here; like it's a bad plot device in an old movie."
The Grinch shrugged and smiled. "I don't have company much, actually, ever, and I live alone. Not even a couch. Fortunately, I always liked a big bed, so I think we'll both fit", he looked at Tony rather intently, then quickly turned his gaze away.
Tony stood, and stretched EVERYTHING, that way he did just before loudly intoning 'Great!', and instead simply said, " Sounds fine. Lead the wsy".
From the outside opening, one might have thought the Grinch lived in a small, barren cave; but within, there turned out to be quite a few, spacious rooms. A workroom with various equipment, a surprisingly large library, a bathroom with a sunken tub fed by an eternally flowing hot spring as well as a similarly serviced toilet, which they each took turns using, and then, safely deep in the innermost chamber, a round, domed room in which was centered a large, circular bed. A seemingly odd choice for a single individual, but with ample space for the owner and a visiting Tiger.
The Grinch walked briskly to the bed, drew back the covers and then, hesitatingly half-turned to his guest. "Would you care to get in first?" His expression, as he asked this of Tony was openly filled with long-repressed desire, with more than a little fear of rejection.
Tony, for his own part, seemed almost overjoyed at the prospect of snuggling up beside the Grinch, and seemed practically to bound across the floor and essentially dived under the covers, maneuvering his large orange-black frame so as to leave ample room for a small, skinny green one beside him. For his part, the Grinch gulped, climbed into bed and pulled the covers over both of them. He turned onto his side, so his back was to Tony, who then companionablely spooned up to him, then lightly, if tentatively draped an arm across the Grinch's shoulder, then slid it lower, to embrace his chest and pull him closer. Tony leaned down to breath on the Grinch's neck, and was rewarded by a faint twitch in response. "Oh, are my whiskers bothering you?"
The Grinch snuggled back a little closer. "I like it. It reminds me of the old days."
Tony was silent for a while, then lightly ran his paw along the Grinch's arm. "Arthur?"
The Grinch turned his head, trying to look into the Tiger's face. "You almost never used my given name."
Tony nuzzled the Grinch's back. "For what I'm going to say, it doesn't seem right to keep calling you 'Grinch'." He was silent for a while, before beginning again."Back in school, we used to hug, and a few times, we even kissed..."
"Yes, I remember. It was nice"
"Yes, it was." There was another silence, while Tony tried to arrange his thoughts, and his words. "Yes, it was nice, but did you ever think about, you know, doing, well...more?"
The Grinch rolled over and slid his free arm around Tony's ample form. He leaned up and planted a quick kiss on Tony's chin. "Thought about it, daydreamed about it, fantasized about it; went so far as to take a bus into the city to visit an 'adult' bookshop to buy a book on how it all works, so I could imagine it all just right. But, Tony?" The Tiger gulped, and the Grinch touseled the fur on his brow, smiling, "do you have to hurry back in the morning or the next day; or can you stay for a while?"
Tony chuckled, almost purring, "I don't have anywhere I need to be, any time soon. I can stay as long as you want me to be here. With you".
The Grinch tightened his hug around the soft fur of Tony's body. " Well, it may surprise you to learn that I actually have an appointment to take lunch with Miss Cindy Lou Who (who is not more than two) on Tuesday week, and I absolutely cannot defer such an important obligation. However, other than that, my schedule is empty. What I mean to say is, we have time, so let's use it, and not rush everything all at once. Let's take the time to get comfy and friendly and used to one another. After all, we haven't seen each other in years, let's get acquainted, before we get hot and heavy." He tugged on the Tiger's fur, "because I fully intend to get hot and heavy, just not to rush as though right now is all we'll ever be able to have."
Tony smiled and squeezed the Grinch tighter. "You're so smart! Were you always so smart?"
"Well, I seem to remember which of us it was, that wrote term papers for a profit."
Tony laughed, "But not for me!"
"No, never for you, Tiger, dear. You always did your own work; that's another thing I always loved about you. But right now, I don't want to talk so much as..." the Grinch lightly pressed his lips to Tony's, murmuring, "let's get started on the getting familiar again."